Lawmakers in the U.S. Virgin Islands last week passed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, bringing the number of states and territories in the country that have legalized the use of cannabis by adults to 21. The legislation was passed in the U.S. Virgin Islands Senate on December 30 by a veto-proof majority vote of 11-1. Governor Albert Bryan, who has expressed strong support for cannabis policy reform, is expected to sign the legislation, according to media reports.
The legislation was approved in conjunction with another bill that expunges past convictions for marijuana-related offenses, which was passed by senators on Friday with a unanimous vote.
Senator Janelle K. Sarauw, the sponsor of the recreational marijuana legalization bill, said that the legislation was a collaborative effort by advocates who overcame opposition to comprehensive cannabis policy reform.
“Although there have been many politically driven false narratives about this cannabis legislation, I am proud of the work done by the Senators of the 34th Legislature, community stakeholders and advocates, all of who contributed to the structuring of the final bill voted upon in today’s Session,” Sarauw said in a press release posted to Facebook. “The body did its due diligence in protecting the masses and the best interest of our residents by ensuring that locals and minorities are not locked out of industry and have any opportunity to participate in its economic potential.”
Senators Worked Through Holiday To Finalize Bill
Senators reportedly worked over the Christmas holiday to work out some concerns with the proposed bill, eventually making some changes to the measure’s language in an amended version of the legislation.
“It became contentious, we almost went to war over cannabis,” Sarauw said jokingly in a statement quoted by The Virgin Islands Consortium, adding that “every single amendment, every single suggestion that members made is included in the amendment in the nature of a substitute.”
Possession of up to one ounce of cannabis was decriminalized in the U.S. Virgin Islands by legislation passed in 2014 and in 2019 a bill to allow the medical use of marijuana was passed by the territorial legislature. Under the bill passed last week, residents and visitors to the Caribbean island territory will be allowed to purchase adult-use cannabis and medical marijuana at licensed dispensaries.
“There are so many provisions in this bill across various disciplines, that once implemented and enforced with fidelity, the Territory will see an industry that is inclusive and diverse, but most importantly, safe,” Sarauw said in the press release. “It is my hope that the current administration implements both Medicinal and Adult Use to their full potential, for the benefit of the people of this Territory.”
Regulations Still To Come in Virgin Islands
Although the bill was passed by a veto-proof majority and has the support of the territory’s governor, Sarauw noted that the legislature has yet to pass regulations to govern marijuana cultivation and sales, steps that are necessary before a regulated cannabis industry can begin operating in a legalized economy.
“Cannabis will be on the governor’s desk in no time and we have done absolutely nothing to move cannabis forward,” she said. “We bawl, I get attacked in debates about cannabis and it will be on the governor’s desk – rules and regs haven’t been promulgated, no seal-to-seal tracking system, nothing has moved with this industry.”
The bill was passed early Friday morning during the last legislative session that Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory served as Senate President of the 34th Legislature. She indicated her support for the measure, noting that the governor and 11 of the territory’s 15 senators had traveled to Denver to learn about issues related to cannabis legalization.
“It would be irresponsible of myself to not move this legislation up or down, whichever decision we make this evening, in the 34th Legislature because we spent the government money,” Frett-Gregory said.